Men's League Diaries: Opening Night

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Game 1: Orange Crush vs. McKenzie Farms

It’s been a while—a year, to be exact. The city wouldn’t let us host our regular summer league, for reasons that aren’t entirely clear. Maybe it was the hassle of having to clean up our empty Gatorade bottles and beer-sweat. I imagine that’s it.

We finished strong after a shitty start last year. Even made it to the semis. I like saying “we got to the semis” because it makes it sound like our league has, like, 20 teams.

There are six.

Our team—Orange Crush (I don’t know, and leave me alone)—is returning six of our eight regulars from last season. Here’s quick run-down:

Me: guard-forward/ref-baiting/backaches/hits a third of his threes, airballs the other two-thirds.

Matt: forward/team captain/coach/surprisingly mobile for pushing 300 pounds/scored four points last year

Alex: forward/leading scorer/gunner/his kids run onto the floor at least twice a game

Mark: forward-center/rebounder/undersized post scorer/looks like a cross between Tom Cruise and Tony Siragusa

Brian: point guard/rock-handling bowling ball/good defender/says he has a job at Blockbuster and none of us say anything

Kyle: forward/two-way scrapper/libertarian/still wearing the same Filas he wore in 1994

Other Matt: guard/new guy/chain-smoker/decent jumper/put down “hospital” as ICE contact on waiver form

Other Mark: positionless/new guy/honestly the worst basketball player I’ve ever seen/won’t come out of the game unless you ask him to

This is who I will go into battle with all year long. We are men,  and this is our league.

***

Our first game—in front of a packed house of two janitors, eight wives and 39 children under the age of 10—is against McKenzie Farm. During shootaround I ask one of the players what kind of farm his sponsor is. He doesn’t know. No one knows. It’s New Hampshire, though, so it’s either rocks or root vegetables. Their shirts haven’t come in yet, so they roll out in polychrome. I spot at least one Cowboy Junkies concert t-shirt.

Two minutes into the game and we’re already down 11-1. McKenzie’s hit all three of their three-point attempts—curious, considering their tallest post player is 6’2 and we’re playing an extended zone. Two of them came from the same spot near the corner, from a kid I swear is shooting with two hands.

But we start hitting our shots and suddenly it’s a four-point game midway through half. Which is 25 minutes, by the way. Running clock, even during timeouts. I would tell you the score, but you wouldn’t believe that ours wasn’t a wheelchair league. I would tell you that 25 minutes goes by fast, but that’s no excuse.

At this point I’ve already been subbed out once. Fatigue has now set in. This tends to happen when the only exercise you’ve had in the last two months is walking your dog, walking from your car to work, walking from work back to your car, walking from your car into your house, and bending the ice trays to top off your bourbon chalice. It’s as close to heat stroke as you can get in the dead of winter—start slurring your words and calling shots “short!” right before they sail four feet past the rim.

Thirty seconds after I re-enter, my lungs start quaking like a Guatemalan sinkhole. The burning is hard to describe. Although, okay, I’ll describe it: my body is freebasing a vat of flaming Lysol, and I am trying to run in that state.

Our defensive rotations have completely unraveled, and McKenzie goes on a 10-0 run to close out the half. I spend the interceding 15 minutes alternating between trips to the water fountain and rubbing my Achilles, which seems primed to explode at any second. No one—on either team—is actually shooting. That’s how ill prepared we are for this. Our muscles begin to tighten, then continue to tighten. There are consequences. We are living in those consequences.

***

The second half is pretty nip-tuck—they hit a few shots, we respond, and vice-versa, and we find ourselves down just eight at the ten-minute mark.  

Predictably, the scoring has completely hemorrhaged. On-point swing passes and crisp ball movement off cuts has been replaced by half-assed drives and flailing slap fouls—anything to stop the clock, even if it means putting the other team at the stripe.

That doesn’t mean there weren’t highlights:

  • Other Mark dribbled past half-court (if you call fly-swatting the ball with your head down dribbling) and, in a panic, throws the ball to his closest teammate in the backcourt.

  • Other Mark actually does this twice.

  • One guy on the other team tried to be all savvy and shit by calling timeout while falling out of bounds and fell over a folding chair instead.

  • A child got his head caught between a pair of bleacher bars.

  • One of the refs—a decent man I’d been antagonizing for most of the game—told me to “cut out the histrionics,” which earned my immediate respect.

  • A fucking thousand (my estimate) turnovers.

Eventually our defensive breakdowns are too much to overcome, and McKenzie holds on for a 61-49 win. Both teams shake hands—tonight’s game was much more cordial than usual—and start packing up. Kids empty the bleachers and run over to their sweat-drenched dads while mom—still snapping the same piece of Orbitz berry gum—pecks away at her iPhone.

As I walk back to our bench, I notice Kyle, our center from a year ago, sitting on the rightmost folding chair. “What’s up, man?” I say. “Could’ve used you out there tonight.”

“Yeah, unfortunately I had to have surgery on my back. Had to remove one of my disks.”

“So no ball at all, huh?”

“Not for at least six weeks.”

“Shit, you could be back in time for the Playoffs?”

“Yeah, but even then the doctor said one false move and my back could just shatter completely.”

This is 30.

Season Record: 0-1

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